Vince McMahon's Bet on American Virtue

Is the XFL filling a more family-friendly niche?

Recently, your humble correspondent had a new experience: attendance at a professional football game that wasn't the NFL.

These opportunities don't come along too often, and when they do, they're generally short.  The last incarnation of the XFL, nearly two decades ago, lasted but a single season; several other leagues have come and gone even more rapidly than that.

So off we went.  If nothing else, the ticket prices were merely in the local-amusement-park range, not priced like a full Disney World vacation as the NFL is - so, with the Trump economy in full swing, why not?

Vince McMahon, owner of the XFL twenty years ago and now, is betting that others will do the same.  And indeed, there does seem to be an opening in the market for yet more football - but, just possibly, there's more to it than that.

Sex, Violence, and Changing Times

In 2001, Mr. McMahon believed that what Americans wanted from their football was more sex and violence than the NFL could provide.  Think the NFL's cheerleaders wore too many clothes? The XFL advertised theirs as basically strippers - which, really, they weren't, and couldn't legally be on prime time.  But Vince thought that's what his viewers wanted to see, and many were disappointed when what they saw in the supposedly live cheerleader-locker-room cameras didn't measure up.

This time around, it's hard to imagine any public performance much more slutty than the Superbowl halftime show, that doesn't involve full nudity.  It garnered hundreds of thousands of complaints to the government - which were, naturally, all dismissed as simply racist.  That stripper pole on stage?  It's choreography, baby!

Instead, the market gap is for a performance without bare backsides shoved into the cameras, and that's what today's XFL delivered: there are no cheerleaders at all.  Oddly, they may have more actual women on the payroll, as refs even - all soberly dressed.

The game was about as violent as you'd expect a football game to be.  But to this occasional game-watcher, it seemed somehow less violent in a certain way.  I don't know for sure, but the uniforms had a somewhat old-fashioned air to them, like from old reels from the 60s, when the helmets and padding weren't the full titanium armor they are today.

Back then, the players knew they couldn't just ram each other with their full force because they surely would break something, so they used more artful moves and athleticism.  All that was on display at our game in full measure, with some truly amazing spins and jumps that would not have been out of place on a ballet stage.  Football, yes, and definitely violence - but somehow, more controlled, more artful, and not just brute force.

There's also the donkey in the room of the NFL's anemic response to attacks on patriotism.  It's not unfair to say that Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem, in a visual protest of the endemic racism of an America that pays him tens of millions of dollars, contributed to the presidency of  Donald Trump.  But it also may have set patriotic Americans on a search for some other way to feed their need for football that doesn't involve gross displays of anti-Americanism.

At least Vince McMahon must think so: his players are required to appear and stand for the national anthem.  And indeed they did, some even with hands over hearts.  In the heart of deep-blue D.C., this was much better received than I would have expected; the reaction in places like Dallas and Houston must have been even more enthusiastic.

Our seat-neighbors, it turned out, were rabid New York football fans who simply couldn't afford NFL tickets.  Instead, they snapped up XFL season tickets and transferred their loyalties, roaring approval and curses with all the vigor of lifetime devotees despite this being merely the second game of the first season.

Was the game itself of NFL caliber?  According to my more knowledgeable associates, it most certainly was.

The presentation, the performance, the (soccer) stadium really weren't - but they weren't bad either.  Again, the whole scene seemed a throwback to an earlier time, when football was big money but not the crazy-huge, small-nation-GNP kind of money it is today.  While NFL ticket takes have been down, college football viewership has gone through the roof; perhaps a similar factor is at work there.

XFL quarterbacks are paid surgeon or lawyer type of salaries, not Hollywood-superstar incomes.  The other players get working-Joe wages.  By definition they'll be more relatable, more connected to their customer.

For sure, it'll be a long time before you see the whiny spoiled millionaire criminal thugs that riddle the NFL - XFL players cannot be felons, which ought to be a bare minimum for someone set before people as a heroic role model.

It's been said that nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American people.  I would have said much the same about the virtue (and lack thereof) of modern America - but maybe there's a reason Vince McMahon is a billionaire and I am not.  We're already checking the calendar to pencil in our next paid visit to his creation.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

I think it's a great idea and I hope they put the nfl out of business. I pretty much agree with all of your observations.

February 29, 2020 2:06 AM
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